MICHAEL ADUBATO - Monday, August 24, 2020
The Super Liga season has gotten underway in Slovakia, and Eduvie Ikoba hopes he can further develop into a complete player at his new team AS Trencin.
When it comes to a professional career in soccer, finding not only a team to sign on with but finding one that you feel is the right fit for you is paramount to your development and success.
Ikoba, a Dartmouth alumni, although drafted by FC Dallas in 2019, headed to Europe to begin his pro career with Zalaegerszeg in the Hungarian top flight last season. Now the 6'4" front man has found himself with a new team in a new country for the new 2020-2021 season.
"Even before the season in Hungary ended, I knew around the winter time that I wanted to sign with a new team at the end of season," the AS Trencin man told Yanks Abroad.
"I was comfortable with Zalaegerszeg, but I felt that there would be better opportunities outside of Hungary so I waited for about a month after the season ended, getting information from different clubs and different agents."
For his first year earning a living playing the beautiful game, Ikoba can look back and feel that he had a decent season where he made 25 appearances, starting 11 times and bagging four goals on a team that spent a lot of the season in relegation trouble.
"I think part of the reality of being a professional player, especially in your first year, is that it's never easy to come into a new team, whether you've been playing or not, and gain significant playing time. So, a large part of last year was just learning how to adapt to situations. I had to learn how to give my best off the bench but I knew in terms of my development that the best thing for me would be to play games, play over and over and start games," he said.
Although a few other offers were on the table, including two Pro League teams in Belgium, the 22-year-old was looking for stability and a chance to become a starter.
"I had other offers that were in places with potentially bigger salaries, maybe leagues with more visibility but what attracted me to this team in Slovakia was that they were really focused on my development and they were willing to work with me in order to reach my full potential," said Ikoba. "Because of that, when I heard from them about a month after my season ended, I was willing to say okay, let's go for it with this club. I like what I've heard so far and I think its going to be a good project for me."
So, the Ivy Leaguer crossed the border into Slovakia and signed on the dotted line for his new club, AS Trencin, who not only play in the Super Liga, the country's top flight, but also in the shadow of a medieval castle that overlooks Štadión na Sihoti. His contract will keep him with the team for three seasons.
Although Ikoba is only three games into his new season, scoring two goals in the season opener against Ruzomberok, he has already noticed significant differences between the two leagues that he has played in.
"The first thing that I noticed is that in Slovakia the games are much more aggressive and it's a faster pace. That's partially because a lot of the players in the league are younger, from what I've seen," he explained. "It's nothing against Hungary. In fact, Hungary I would say is better in some ways because although the league is a little bit older, I think there's more experience and a bigger focus on tactics. They're different styles, but each of them has their own benefits. They provide different challenges. So, for me I can take a lot of what I've learned in Hungary in terms of positioning, organization and making the right runs, and I can see it really helping me here in this league.
"In my first game I scored (twice). I guess you can attribute one of the goals to having the right position and making the right run. The league here is definitely a faster pace. There's more intensity and to me a lot more physicality, which is something that I consider as one of my strengths but I have to continue working on it here in this league because it's definitely a step up."
Ikoba isn't the only newcomer to Trencin. The club hired Belgian coach Stijn Vreven to lead the team this season. He coached Sporting Lokeren in Belgium last season.
"What I really like about him is that he has the mentality that is focused on improving every day, whether its training or being in the gym, even the mental stuff leading up to training. I've been thankful to work with him so far. I know for sure that I'm going to develop," said Ikoba.
After the first three games of the season, however, where the team has only picked up a couple points with a pair of ties and a loss, their season has come to a temporary halt due to COVID-19.
"Our game this (past) weekend was cancelled because there was a player here at our club who tested positive for corona virus." the Iowa native said. "There was also one from the team we were supposed to play who tested positive as well. So, because of that we've been in quarantine for the last few days. I think everyone on our team will have to take another test on Monday so hopefully it's something that can be controlled in a week or two and we can go back to normal."
In his second professional season, Ikoba has the will and potential to carry on improving and nobody would be surprised to find him playing at an even higher level in the coming years. Keep an eye on this young man.